By Rob McHugh @mchughr @TLE_Sport
On the 10th of October 2015, Manchester will officially become a Rugby city, with the Etihad Stadium playing host to England and Uruguay in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and Old Trafford welcoming the best two teams in English Rugby League for the First Utility Super League Grand Final. Leeds Rhinos are on course for a historic treble, having vanquished Hull KR 50-0 in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley in August, before recovering from a 3 game losing streak to defeat Huddersfield with the last play of the regular season, clinching the League Leaders Shield. The Wigan Warriors finished level on points with the Rhinos over the course of the season, and were on course to lift the “Hubcap” as the league leaders shield is affectionately known, before Ryan Hall’s dramatic intervention clinched the prize for Leeds.
Before the big game this weekend, I caught up with Huddersfield Giants and England International prop forward, Eorl Crabtree, to gain a precious insight from one of the sport’s leading players. Despite the fact the post-season isn’t even yet finished, Eorl is fresh from a run, so that he can show the Huddersfield youngsters who is boss when pre-season starts. He offered his thoughts ahead of Saturday’s big game.
“I think they are the best two teams in Super League by far, and my heart says Leeds. That’s because of the treble, and the story behind it… they have Jamie Peacock, who is retiring, Kevin Sinfield, who is going over to play Rugby Union, and Kylie Leuluai (also retiring), one of the biggest overseas signings the game has ever had, and it’s a massive story for those guys.”
“But at the same time, Wigan are hitting form at the right time, they play an aggressive way, with an aggressive nature, and I hope that one of my mates, Larne Patrick (ex Huddersfield Giants) gets the chance to play and lift that trophy as well!”
Crabtree believes that winning the forward battle will be the key to allowing both sides’ creative players to flourish.
“The Wigan forwards will challenge the Leeds forwards, but their key player will be Sean O’Loughlin. He’s an absolutely massive player for them. Everything is dictated by him; the way they play, their style of play. He runs the line with the ball in hand and looks to pass the ball out the back, allowing players such as young George Williams, who has great footwork, to feature.”
“The threats from Leeds are all over the pitch, they plan an offload game…and players like Kallum Watkins can set the world alight- watch out for him. But I am expecting a big physical battle, and that’s what I’m looking forward to see.” Crabtree later added, “Danny McGuire, who I honestly believe has got better as he has become more of a ball player and got older and wiser…he is the architect, he is very smart, and if there is a break, his push through support, through years of experience always puts him in the right place.”
On a personal note for Crabtree and his Huddersfield teammates, the season ended on a disappointing note, missing out on the League Leaders shield in their defeat against Leeds, and then losing the following week to Wigan in the play-off semi-finals. Crabtree, who recently signed a contract extension to play with Huddersfield until 2017, is philosophical about his chances of winning the game’s biggest prize and is more focused on the job of building a lasting legacy at the John Smith’s Stadium.
“I’m running out of time!” joked Crabtree when I asked him about this: “It’s a bit depressing at times thinking that it is never going to happen, but if it doesn’t happen..it doesn’t happen. It’s not something that I will lose too much sleep over. There is a story that I am trying to create at Huddersfield and that’s not about me. It’s about the club as a whole, and the last three seasons we have finished in the top three and we are trying to push on for some silverware. This is what is important to me, whether that happens while I am still playing or after I have retired – it is the club’s success which is important.”
Another interesting contrast on Saturday is the two different styles of the coaches: Brian McDermott is a very precise, measured individual whereas Wigan’s Shaun Wane has a more aggressive approach, which Crabtree believes makes the two perfectly suited for their respective roles.
“When you look around the Leeds side, they don’t really need a coach. They have players like Peacock, Sinfield, McGuire, Rob Burrow and now Adam Cuthbetrson coming in. These players have been around for such a long time and know the game inside out. That team could coach themselves and still go on and win silverware. Brian McDermott does a good job in keeping the players in check, picking the right team and motivating individuals.”
“But Shaun Wane, I think he has to coach a lot more. He has that aggressive nature as well – that is obvious. He expects and demands perfection from his players and I think that marks the two contrasting styles. But they are both just as good- we have a team which is more experienced and full of potential coaches and the young guns coming through, who are enthusiastic and coached to a great level.”
Crabtree, who also spoke about his excitement for the Autumn internationals against New Zealand, thinks that England have every chance of beating the Kiwis on home soil, and hopes that the talented individuals in the team will take the headlines, rather than any off-field incidents which may have stolen focus in the past.
On the overall health of the game, Crabtree is a fan of the new format, which has allowed the best two teams to meet in the Grand Final, but feels there is room for improvement in certain areas.
“The game is too scrappy around the ruck, and too messy at times. If we could stamp that out the game would improve… the game now is based on speed, power and skill, not scrappy fighting and big shots… people want to see players in open space, making breaks, throwing good passes and scoring good tries, and I think how the game is coached, managed and refereed has a massive influence on that. I would love to see that changed and I think it would help massively.
Back to the weekend and Crabtree would not be drawn on a prediction, preferring to sit on the fence. “I’m a Yorkshire lad, and would love to see Leeds win it for the White Rose,” he said, “but I do feel Wigan will push them all the way.”
Whatever happens on Saturday night, one thing is for certain – the game will provide an enthralling spectacle and one side of the Yorkshire/Lancashire divide will be happier at the end of it. For Eorl, who will be attending the game as a spectator, the hard work to deliver the long sought after silverware to Huddersfield has already started.
Eorl Crabtree and Jordan Turner are the Super League Ambassadors for ALCATEL ONETOUCH and the new IDOL 3 handset